Sebastian Junger says many military members actually miss war when they return home, but what they miss most is the "opposite" of battle.
The American journalist, who has been covering combat zones around the world for about 20 years, said in a recent TED Talk that many service members miss the relationships they forged most. And understanding the complexities of this issue is key to providing military members the services they need, he said.
"What is it that he misses? I think what he missed is brotherhood," Junger says in the video above, recalling a conversation with a soldier. "He missed, in some ways, the opposite of killing. What he missed was connection to the other men he was with."
The harsh, surreal living conditions coupled with the deep interpersonal connections they develop with fellow soldiers leads men in uniform to actually miss conflict once they're no longer entrenched in it. The inability for civilians to understand that experience is largely responsible for the difficulties soldiers face after returning home from war, Junger believes.
Junger advocates for greater awareness surrounding the notion of missing war in order to better help returning military members facing challenges with employment and PTSD, among other issues.
A study by the Institute of Medicine found that between 2004 and 2012, the percentage of all active-duty service members from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with PTSD increased from 1 to 5 percent, as Boston.com reported. But the study also found that in 2013 just 53 percent of veterans with a primary diagnosis of PTSD received proper psychotherapy sessions after their diagnosis.
Junger wrote in a 2011 column in the New York Times that many civilians simply don't understand the mental health issues surrounding war.
Civilians are often confused ... The idea that a psychologically healthy person could miss war seems an affront to the idea that war is evil. Combat is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but a fully human reaction is far more complex than that. If we civilians don’t understand that complexity, we won’t do a very good job of bringing these people home and making a place for them in our society.
But how can everyday people relate to and support soldiers who've experienced something so far removed from the comforts of America? The first step is to understand the realities of war, Junger said.
"If society were willing to acknowledge the very real horrors of war -- even a just war, as I believe some are," Junger wrote. "Then men ... would not have to struggle with the gap between their world view and ours."